“I’ve had a passion for computers since childhood. I was curious about how computers work, and how they function. It is this interest that made me pursue computer science engineering,” says Kartika Naveena, a first-year student at Sagi Ramakrishnan Raju Engineering College in Bhimavaram, Andhra Pradesh, and an Amazon Future Engineer (AFE) scholar.
For Anjali Ashtake, a student of Cummins College Of Engineering For Women in Nagpur, Maharashtra, becoming an AFE scholar gave her the financial means to pursue her passion for technology. Says Ashtake, “I’ve been a studious person all my life and realized I have an aptitude for decision making and logical reasoning. All these factors came together in my desire to specialize in STEM, particularly computer science.”
Hailing from different backgrounds, geographies, and cultures, a common thread connecting these young women – and the rest of the 2021-22 Amazon Future Engineer scholarship winners – is their passion for computer engineering and a deep desire to beat the odds. Says Kartika Naveena, “Growing up, I was acutely aware of the hardships my father went through to educate us; his meagre income supported a large family. There were times when we skipped buying textbooks and studied with material available online to save money. But we were always willing to accommodate, work hard, and go the extra mile.”
Creating pathways for careers in STEM for girls
In the first year of its launch, the AFE scholarship has provided 200 meritorious girl students the opportunity to pursue higher education in computer science engineering. Offered in collaboration with the Foundation for Excellence, the students were selected from 17 different Indian states and come from families where the primary occupation is agriculture or manual labour, with annual average income of Rs 1 lakh. Despite facing economic adversities, these students have scored over 82% in their Class 12 board exams and secured high ranks in engineering entrance exams.
When the referral campaign to nominate students for the 2021 scholarship was announced, a record 7,000 applications were received, of which 1,000 students met the eligibility criteria. The final 200 were selected based on their financial needs and student essays detailing the impact the scholarships will have on their lives.
I want to bring a difference in society and contribute to the empowerment of women and their greater presence in technology.
“There are very few women in technology currently, and I want to change that. I want to work in artificial intelligence (AI) and web development to build something new. By setting an example, I want to bring a difference in society and contribute to the empowerment of women and their greater presence in technology,” says Aleena Francis, a first-year student at NSS College of Engineering, one of the many girls who has received a grant to follow her dream of graduating in STEM.
Inspiring the next generation of leaders
The AFE scholarship program provides students Rs 40,000 per year for the entirety of the four-year course. Financial assistance is just one aspect of the scholarship: as an AFE scholar, students also get an opportunity to explore internships at Amazon, interact with technology teams, participate in skills-building hackathons, and get mentored by Amazon scientists. This will not only help them build relevant industry skills but groom them for careers in the tech industry.
I want to make people’s lives easier across all sections of society.
“I want to help people by becoming a software engineer in civil services. As an engineer, I want to make my codes run smoothly, and as a civil servant, I want to make people’s lives easier across all sections of society,” says Keerthi Singh, a 2021 AFE scholar pursuing her first year of engineering at Dr B R Ambedkar National Institute of Technology in Jalandhar, Punjab.
Enabling a level playing field
Over 1 million students enroll in computer science engineering courses annually in India, though the participation of students from underserved and underrepresented communities remain significantly low. There are multiple factors for this, including limited availability of computing devices, low exposure to CS-related career opportunities, lack of role models in their community, and language barriers to access interesting CS curriculum. Interestingly, smartphone penetration in India is significantly higher than computers, yet existing CS learning modules and online content are not mobile-friendly, impeding access to quality learning content.
Amazon India launched the Amazon Future Engineer (AFE) program in 2021, creating a comprehensive childhood-to-career community program to address this gap by bringing early exposure and access to computer science education for students through in-person, online, and blended learning formats. A flagship offering of the Amazon Future Engineer program is the scholarship for students facing financial hardships to pursue a career in computer science engineering and further the mission of CS education for all.
To learn more about the program, go here